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Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, on Tuesday, November 27, addressed several hundred supporters in McAllen during her campaign reelection bid kick-of. Gonzáles, whose House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg, is seeking a third two-year term. She is facing fellow McAllen attorney Javier Villalobos, who is seeking the Republican Party nomination for the legislative post. A complete story, along with a transcript of her speech, will be posted in next week’s edition of http://www.EdinburgPolitics.com

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Dan Ríos, featured left, has added to the honors bestowed upon his Edinburg family with his recent appointment by Gov. Rick Perry as the new judge of the 449th Judicial District Court in Edinburg. Ríos, who will be stepping down as city attorney for Edinburg, is shown here earlier this fall, along his his mother, Mary Ann, and brother, Luis, accepting a legislative proclamation, signed by Perry, from Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. House Concurrent Resolution 195, authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and sponsored by Hinojosa, paid tribute to the late patriarch of the local family, Dr. Luis M. Ríos, Sr., a plastic surgeon who passed away last February. Dan Ríos succeeds Judge Maxine Longoria-Nash as judge of a district court that will focus on juvenile cases. Ríos, a Republican, may seek election to the bench in November 2008, otherwise his term will be up on December 31, 2008. If no other Republican files for his spot, he would face either Democrats Longoria-Nash or Jesse Contreras, who are seeking the Democratic Party primary nomination in March. The Rios family is not new to politics; Mary Ann Rios ran a closer-than-expected race in the 1990s as the Republican nominee against incumbent Rep. Eddie de La Garza. Dan Rios is expected to be sworn into office within two weeks. Featured in this portrait, from left, are Dan, Mary Ann, Hinojosa, and Luis Rios, Jr. See story later in this posting.

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South Texas College and area business leaders on Friday, November 16, gathered with community leaders from across the Rio Grande Valley to celebrate its new bachelor’s degree program – a rarity for community colleges nationwide. Featured in this portrait, posing with a framed copy of the state law that authorized the Bachelors of Applied Technology in Computer and Information Technologies are, from left: Irene García, chair of the STC Board of Trustees and mother-in-law to Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview; Reed; Robert W. Sheppard, chair of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board; Danny King; and Flores. See story later in this posting.

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Handful of Edinburg residents address trustees on significant changes in length of terms, election date

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

A handful of Edinburg residents, who evidently had an advanced look at two major plans that could change the length of the terms of local school board trustees, on Tuesday, November 27, favored a measure that would switch the school board elections from May until November, beginning this spring.

No action was scheduled, or taken, by the school board during their public hearing.

The options, which school board attorney Jacques Treviño contends are required by the Texas Legislature, also provides that the terms of the seven school board trustees be increased to four years in length, from the current three-year terms.

Treviño also believes that action must be taken by December 31, although he acknowledged — based on a question from Board Secretary Ciro Treviño (no relation) – that the school district may not face any punishment from the state if the school board does not change the length of the terms or the election date.

Responding to a question from trustee Robert Peña, Jr., the school board attorney said none of the area state legislators have been asked for advice on how to deal with the new state law that has drawn so much confusion.

The school board could come back on Tuesday, December 11, the date for their next scheduled regular meeting, and through the passage of a resolution, adopt a plan that would increase the length of their terms, and keep or change the month for holding school board elections – without further participation by their constituents.

The board also could meet before December 11, or after that date but before December 31, to take action on the two plans drawn up by the school board attorney.

Any changes adopted by the school board that affects school board elections also will have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, raising the specter of legal challenges by any school board trustee or citizens who object to those changes.

School board attorney Treviño’s power-point presentation on the two plans, which was scheduled to begin airing Wednesday, November 28, on the school district’s KATS television channel (broadcast on Time Warner Cable Channel 17), covered his interpretation of state law and a Texas Attorney General’s Opinion that he says require action by the school board by December 31.

Treviño is also working with the school district to post his power-point presentation on the school district’s web site, possibly as early as the end of this week, to increase the public’s access to the two plans.

The issues have been brewing behind-the-scenes for several months, following last spring’s passage of Senate Bill 607, which was designed to address issues unique to the board of trustees of the Alief independent school district, located in the Houston region.

But as is sometimes the case, the bill flew through the legislative process without any apparent concerns that it would affect possibly dozens of school districts statewide, including Edinburg.

The November 27 testimony favoring a plan to extend the terms to four years, and change the election date from May to November, featured comments that were typewritten and delivered, even though the 5 p.m. public hearing represented the first time the plans were presented to the general public.

School board trustees received the plans late last week, and copies of those measures began circulating in the community.

Attorney Treviño, however, had offered to provide an advanced look of the plans to this reporter on Tuesday, November 13, but only after he had discussed the options with the trustees during an executive (closed) session, which he said is allowed by state law.

The offer was declined; instead, a request was made that the school district’s public information department prepare a press release on the issues in order to minimize any misunderstandings of the politically-charged measures.

So far, neither the school district nor the school attorney have issued a detailed printed explanation. Attorney Treviño, superintendent Gilberto Garza, Jr., and Mario Salinas, the school district’s Assistant Superintendent for District Administration, have been researching the impact of of the Legislature’s actions since last June.

When the state law began to receive public attention in early November, the three men have remained readily available to answer any questions from the public.

The November 27 meeting, held in the second floor Board Room of the ECISD Administration Building, located at 411 North 8th Street, featured the following options, developed by attorney Treviño:

  • Does the school board allow trustees to finish out their three-year terms in May – the next scheduled election date for the school board – and then the four year terms begin? Two of the seven incumbents – Board President Carmen González and Board Secretary Treviño – are up for reelection in May, 2008.
  • Does the school board switch the election date from May until November, and then the four year terms begin? That would add six months to the current terms of trustees González and Treviño.

The options have been developed in response to last spring’s passage of Senate Bill 607, which was designed to address issues unique to the board of trustees of the Alief independent school district, located in the Houston region.

But as is sometimes the case, the bill flew through the legislative process without any apparent concerns that it would affect possibly dozens of school districts statewide, including Edinburg.

“We are compelled to do this,” the school board attorney said Wednesday, November 14. “Our interpretation of an Attorney General’s opinion is it is mandatory that we do it. It’s not just the board members wanting to give themselves an extra year on their term.”

So far, no school board member has said they support any changes.

An Attorney General Opinion is a written interpretation of existing law. Opinions interpret legal issues that are ambiguous, obscure, or otherwise unclear. Accordingly, although an Attorney General Opinion is advisory, it carries the weight and force of law unless or until it is modified or overruled. Ultimate determination of a law’s applicability, meaning or constitutionality is left to the courts.

The school board attorney said on November 14 that his November 27 presentation would be designed to explain that “this is the law, this is why we have to do it, these are the pros and cons of both plans. We are going to try to explain everything in the power-point presentation, go over the law, and AG opinion that pretty much compels us to go to a four year term.”

On Tuesday, October 30, Garza, Salinas, school district attorney Treviño, and board members Peña and David Torres went to Austin to try to get answers to a difficult problem. They met with Elizabeth Hanshaw Winn, lead attorney with the Elections Division of the Texas Secretary of State, trying to get a handle on what stands to be a political hot potato along many different levels.

“We wanted to get an opinion from the Secretary of State on the mandates of the new law, because we need to know what options we have,” Salinas said in early November.

Such action also would require the U.S. Department of Justice to come into the process, making sure that any proposed changes do not discriminate on a number of different levels.

A bill analysis, which is background provided by the Texas Legislature, explained the history that led to SB 670, and some of the impact of the measure:

House Bill 1, passed by the 79th Legislature, Third Called Session in 2006, mandated that school districts hold joint elections with a municipality, county, or the state. This would require 50 to 70 school districts to change from May to November elections, either because they are not part of a municipality with a May election, or because the district is not located in a municipality and therefore, will have to join with the county or state elections.

The approved bill and subsequent changes came about because Alief ISD, located in part within the Houston city limits, currently holds elections each May, and about one-third of the trustees are elected to the school board each year for three-year terms. Because the district is required to change to a November election, trustees will be running for election in even-numbered presidential and non-presidential years and in odd-numbered Houston city election years. This would raise the costs of the elections for Alief ISD.

SB 670 authorizes a school district’s board of trustees to adopt a resolution changing the length of the terms of its trustees not later than December 31, 2007, to address the rising costs of multiple elections and the confusion among voter precincts.

This bill does not expressly grant any additional rule-making authority to a state officer, institution, or agency.

SB 670 amends Section 11.059, Education Code, by adding Subsection (e), as follows:

(e) Authorizes the board of trustees of a school district to adopt a resolution changing the length of the terms of its trustees not later than December 31, 2007. Requires the resolution to provide for a term of either three or four years and to specify the manner in which the transition from the length of the former term to the modified term is made. Requires the transition to begin with the first regular election for trustees that occurs after January 1, 2008, and requires that a trustee who serves on that date serve the remainder of that term. Provides that this subsection expires January 1, 2013.

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Gov. Perry Appoints former Edinburg City Attorney Dan Ríos as judge of the 449th Judicial District Court

Daniel Ríos of Edinburg has been appointed by Gov. Rick Perry as judge of the 449th Judicial District, representing Hidalgo County, pursuant to Senate Bill 1951 of the 80th Legislature, for a term to expire at the next general election.

Ríos, who must now step down as legal counsel for the City of Edinburg, is an attorney in private practice and past Assistant Criminal District Attorney for Hidalgo County. He is a member and past officer of the Hidalgo County Bar Association, and past member and past officer of the Hidalgo County Young Lawyers Association.

Additionally, Ríos is a member of the State Bar of Texas and International Museum of Arts and Sciences. He received a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a law degree from the University of Texas.

Ríos succeeds Judge Maxine Longoria-Nash as judge of a district court that will focus on juvenile cases.

Ríos, a Republican, may seek election to the bench in November 2008, otherwise his term will be up on December 31, 2008. If no other Republican files for his spot, he would face either Democrats Longoria-Nash or Jesse Contreras, who are seeking the Democratic Party primary nomination in March.

The Rios family is not new to politics; his mother, Mary Ann Rios, ran a closer-than-expected race in the 1990s as the Republican nominee against incumbent Rep. Eddie de La Garza. Dan Rios is expected to be sworn into office within two weeks.

The appointment is the latest honor bestowed upon the Ríos family.

Ríos earlier this fall, along his his mother, Mary Ann, and brother, Luis, accepted a legislative proclamation, signed by Perry, from Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-Edinburg.

House Concurrent Resolution 195, authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and sponsored by Hinojosa, paid tribute to the late patriarch of the local family, Dr. Luis M. Rios, Sr., a plastic surgeon who passed away last February.

Tribute to Ríos patriarch

HCR 195

WHEREAS, The residents of the Rio Grande Valley lost an admired surgeon with the passing of Dr. Luis M. Ríos, Sr., of Edinburg on February 18, 2007, at the age of 72; and

WHEREAS, Born and raised in Mexico City, Luis Ríos was nurtured by his mother, Maria Luisa de Rios Pastrana, as he grew up; her care and devotion helped Mr. Rios to excel in his studies, and he graduated first in his class as a college undergraduate and second in his class in medical school; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Ríos arrived in the United States in 1960 to take part in an internship program at St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital in Chicago; while living in that city, he met Mary Ann Mungovan, and the two were married in 1962; he completed his residency in general surgery at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, before returning to Mexico City in 1966 to practice medicine; three years later, he entered a residency program in plastic surgery at The University of Texas at San Antonio; and

WHEREAS, After completing the program, Dr. Ríos bypassed lucrative job offers from well-established plastic surgery groups around the country and instead opted to become the first plastic and reconstructive surgeon in the Rio Grande Valley; treating patients from Rio Grande City to Brownsville, this gifted surgeon saved countless lives and restored the futures of a great number of individuals who had been badly injured; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Ríos was inspired by the ideal of helping anyone who needed his help, and he performed his services regardless of a patient’s financial means; moreover, he helped found the Rio Grande Valley Cranial-Facial Anomalies Advisory Group, where he and other medical professionals donated their time and skills to help those suffering from facial deformities; and

WHEREAS, Highly respected for his compassion and his tremendous surgical skills, Luis Ríos received numerous awards; two especially prestigious accolades were the Lifetime Achievement Award that he received from the Valley Association of Speech Pathologists and Audiologists in 1993 and the Citation for Excellence in Humanitarian Service from the National Endowment for Plastic Surgery in 2005; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Ríos served his country as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, where he attained the rank of lieutenant colonel and provided his medical expertise to fellow members of the armed forces; a proud U.S. citizen, he viewed this military service as a means of showing his appreciation for his adopted country; and

WHEREAS, On his retirement in 2002, Dr. Ríos could reflect proudly on a distinguished medical career that had extended for four decades, three of which were spent in South Texas; in all of his endeavors, Dr. Luis Ríos displayed the highest degree of technical excellence and an uncompromising devotion to the care of his patients, and his illustrious record of service will long be remembered by the residents of the Rio Grande Valley; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the 80th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby honor the life of Dr. Luis M. Ríos, Sr., and extend deepest condolences to the members of his family: to his wife of 44 years, Mary Ann Ríos; to his children, Dr. Luis M. Ríos, Jr., and his wife, Lisa, Daniel G. Ríos and his wife, Monica, Edward X. Ríos, and Jennifer Ann Childress and her husband, Brett; to his grandchildren, Christopher and Emily Ríos, Nicole, Alyssa, Sydney, and Steven Childress, and Edward and Sophia Ríos; and to his other relatives and friends; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That an official copy of this resolution be prepared for his family and that when the Texas House of Representatives and Senate adjourn this day, they do so in memory of Dr. Luis M. Ríos, Sr.

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Eddie Sáenz criticizes tuition rate increases by UT System regents as being “a middle-class tax hike”

By KELLY FERO

Democrat Eddie Sáenz, running to set a new direction in the Texas House of Representatives, has called for capping college tuition rates, saying that the cost of a higher education has skyrocketed more than 100 percent at the state’s flagship university since Austin politicians pushed through a controversial tuition deregulation bill four years ago.

Sáenz is challenging Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, in the March 4, 2008 Democratic Party primary to represent House District 40. So far, the are no other announced candidates in the race.

House District 40 includes all but southwest Edinburg, La Joya and Sullivan City in western Hidalgo County, Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa, and San Carlos in eastern Hidalgo County, and northern Hidalgo County.

“Funding higher education should be a top priority, and the politicians who voted for shifting control over tuition rates from themselves to anonymous higher education officials should be held accountable,” Sáenz said. “That vote was nothing less than a middle-class tax hike.”

Sáenz said the first step toward a solution is to place an immediate cap on college tuition increases to limit any further damage to working families. He said a proposal by Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to impose a three-year moratorium is a good starting point. The Texas Legislature should then reverse the 2003 deregulation measure, he said.

“My opponent’s political friends in Austin lack the courage to make sure our colleges have the state resources they need to continue providing a quality education,” Sáenz said. “Instead, they have put the squeeze on working families, put universities in the unfair position of having to fund their operations on the backs of students, and put Texas at a competitive disadvantage with other states and countries that are investing in the next generation while we shortchange ours.”

On Tuesday, November 18, the UT System Board of Regents approved tuition increases at the general academic universities range from 4 percent to 15 percent for the spring semester for a student taking 12 semester credit hours. Two institutions—UT Brownsville and UT Pan American — did not request increases for the spring.

But Sáenz noted that tuition and fees have already soared at South Texas public colleges and universities — 38 percent at the University of Texas-Pan American, 59 percent at the University of Texas-Brownsville, 50 percent at the University of Texas-San Antonio, and 28 percent at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

Sáenz earned his degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1982. He is a member of the National Society of Professional Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Texas Society of Professional Engineers.

As owner and chief executive officer of one of South Texas’ leading civil engineering firms, he is a recognized expert in helping cities, school districts, and other public entities improve their operations and basic services.

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In increasing tuition hikes throughout UT System, regents emphasize increase in financial aid

By MONTY JONES

The Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on Tuesday, November 18, approved tuition increases for this spring after receiving assurances from university officials that adequate financial aid would be available to help students pay for the new costs.

The board also approved tuition and fee plans for the next academic year, which begins in fall 2004, but the approval is not effective until January 23. That action was taken to allow time to receive final input from the public, legislators and other policymakers.

The regents approved plans that include setting aside at least 20 percent of new tuition revenues for financial aid programs, as well as a variety of ways that students can take advantage of special discounts in tuition rates. All nine of the general academic universities in the system will pay completely for the tuition increases for lower-income students, and several will institute new work study programs. At least one campus will provide no-cost loans to help students pay for textbooks.

The tuition increases at the general academic universities range from 4 percent to 15 percent for the spring semester for a student taking 12 semester credit hours. Two institutions—UT Brownsville and UT Pan American — did not request increases for the spring.

The University of Texas at Austin will use flat-rate tuition plans that mean the cost per credit hour will go down as students increase the number of hours taken during a semester. The plans also include other major financial incentives for students to increase their course loads and graduate on time.

Campuses will use the new tuition revenues to upgrade academic programs and student services, such as hiring additional faculty and advisers, reducing class sizes, offering more sections of courses, and making repairs and renovations to campus buildings. The new revenues will help offset cuts in state appropriations that average 6 percent across the system for the state’s current two-year budget period.

“Our decision to approve these increases in tuition is undertaken with confidence that the UT System and its component institutions have developed carefully thought-out programs that address multiple priorities in a comprehensive way,” said Charles Miller, chairman of the Board of Regents.

Miller cited eight key priorities that are incorporated in all the tuition plans:

  • Keeping a UT education affordable.
  • Making sure that all students with financial needs receive appropriate aid.
  • Maintaining and enhancing the quality of academic programs and student services.
  • Using creative incentives to help students save money and help institutions achieve their strategic goals.
  • Meeting the needs of a diverse and rapidly growing student population.
  • Helping the state achieve its goals for increased college enrollment and graduation.
  • Operating a tuition system that passes the most demanding tests of accountability and transparency.
  • Developing tuition proposals in full consultation with students, faculty and other constituencies.

The regents acted on November 18 for the first time under the tuition deregulation law passed by the Legislature last spring. The law transfers authority for setting tuition from the Legislature to university governing boards.

“It is the policy of the UT System that no student be denied educational opportunity because of financial need, while at the same time ensuring that the educational services provided to students are of the highest quality,” Miller said.

“These tuition plans provide desperately needed revenues that will help each campus strengthen its services. They also take full advantage of the flexibility that is built into the state’s new tuition law, so that each campus is using tuition policy as a means of achieving its strategic goals.” he added.

“I am proud of the way that the campuses and the system administration haveacted to implement the tuition deregulation law, including full participation by students. We have developed a model process, not only for other higher education institutionsin Texas, but for the nation as a whole,” Miller contended.

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Rep. Flores honored by community leaders for role in creating second bachelor’s degree program at STC

By HELEN ESCOBAR
South Texas College took the opportunity on Friday, November 16, to gather with community leaders from across the Rio Grande Valley and celebrate its new bachelor’s degree.“It took us a long time, a lot of convincing, growing pains and some patience, but we finally earned the ability to offer this second bachelor’s and now its time to thank those that stood by us all along,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of STC. “We sincerely appreciate the efforts of every single person in this room. You each played a significant role in helping STC help its students and the community.”

Among those honored for their support of the program at the event was Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview; Robert W. Sheppard, chair of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board; Dr. Lyn Phillips, chair of the THECB Committee on Academic Excellence and Research; Dr. Raymund Paredes, commissioner of the THECB; the McAllen Economic Development Corporation; and Jose Rangel, chair of the STC BAT Degree Advisory Committee and vice president of First National Bank.

The college’s new Bachelors of Applied Technology in Computer and Information Technologies for a vast upcoming labor shortage. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CIT related vacancies are expected to increase by 58 percent throughout Hidalgo and Starr counties by 2015. The new degree will prepare students for a variety of career opportunities to fill this void including computer and information system managers, computer system analysts, database administrators, and network system and data communication analysts.

STC will start classes for the new bachelor’s degree in spring 2008. Through the program, students have access to free tutoring in a variety of subjects, flexible course schedules, financial aid, a student support club, leadership activities, internships, mentorships, business networking events, job placement and a variety of other resources to ensure their academic and personal success.

For additional information about South Texas College’s BAT Program visit

http://www.southtexascollege.edu/ba/BAT or call 872-7270 or 872-2036.

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T. Edward Mercer, longtime administrator with the University of Texas-Pan American, dies at age 73

Former UTPA administrator T. Edward Mercer, who served as The University of Texas-Pan American’s first vice president for Institutional Advancement and helped to build from the ground up the UTPA Foundation and an endowment fund of more than $30 million upon his retirement in 1999, passed away Sunday, November 25 after a yearlong battle with brain cancer.

“The University of Texas-Pan American has just lost a dedicated and truly honorable friend. The light that he lit in South Texas and the University will shine in the lives of many for generations to come. We are deeply saddened by his death and profoundly grateful for his life,” stated UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas.

Born in Austin, Texas on July 29, 1934, Mercer grew up in the Round Rock area where he was an outstanding athlete and valedictorian of his graduating class. He attended Howard Payne University in Brownwood on a football scholarship and later married his college sweetheart, Anna (Henson) Mercer. Upon graduation, the couple moved to Louisville, Ky. where Mercer earned a master of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Seminary. Returning to Texas, he also earned a Master of Arts from The University of Texas at Austin in 1960.

Before joining then Pan American University in January 1982, Mercer worked as a professor of sociology at Mary Hardin-Baylor, where he advanced to serve in various administrative positions leaving in 1980 as vice president for Institutional Advancement. Mercer was noted for his gift of showing care to others and his talents as an educator and fund raiser. During his 18 years at Mary Hardin-Baylor, Mercer obtained the largest single cash gift and the largest single deferred gift in the school’s history. He also was deferred gift coordinator for the Southwest United States at the Northwood Institute, a private school in Houston.

Founding board members of the UTPA Foundation long ago credited Mercer’s dedication and persistence in making the organization a success. Starting in 1982 with a budget of $20,000 and $36.12 in the bank, Mercer built the University’s now multi-million endowment from an initial $75,000 through the cultivation of major corporations, foundations and individual donors throughout the United States.

Responsible for planning, directing and implementing the University’s advancement program, Mercer oversaw two successful capital campaigns, one garnering $30 million for the construction of UTPA’s state-of-the-art Engineering Building. He also helped to secure major funds from the sale of state property owned by former governor Allan Shivers as well as to facilitate the gift of the Shary Estate to the University in 1998. After his retirement, Mercer remained a part-time member of UTPA’s advancement team as its chief planned giving officer until 2004.

Mercer was an active member of many committees and boards in communities where he lived. He served with his wife as houseparents at the Round Rock Children’s Home and pastored at the Buckner’s Boys Ranch. He was a loving family man and enjoyed many hobbies including vegetable and rose gardening, hunting, fishing and especially cattle ranching at The Grove during the 1970s.

He is survived by his wife Anna; daughter Beth Beck and husband Paul; son Bruce Mercer and wife Valerie; six grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

Services were held in Belton, Texas at the Dossman Funeral Home. Visitation was from 6-8 p.m., Tuesday, November 27 and the funeral was held at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, November 28.

An Edward Mercer Memorial Scholarship Fund has been established by Mr. and Mrs. Carlos X. Guerra with the UTPA Foundation to honor his life’s work. Contributions can be made to the UTPA Foundation and sent to The University of Texas-Pan American, Office of the Division of University Advancement, ITT 1.210, Attn: Lydia Aleman, 1201 W. University Dr., Edinburg, Texas 78539-2999.

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South Texas College to host free symposium on information technology on Friday, December 7

By HELEN ESCOBAR

South Texas College is hosting an Information Technology Symposium on Friday, December 7, 2007 starting at 8:30 a.m. at the McAllen Convention Center. The keynote speaker will be Dave Mosby, CEO, technologist, visionary and author.

Admission is free and open to the public.

Mosby is co-author of the highly acclaimed book, “The Paradox of Excellence, How Great Performance Can Kill your Business,” which has been featured in a variety of national publications and broadcast shows.

He is also well-known for his many years in the IT industry, including two decades in CEO positions. As founder and CEO of InterWorks Software, Inc., a software development firm that creates specialized customer retention and value reinforcement solutions, he has built solutions for many Global 2000 companies including DHL, Kaiser Permanent, and Link/Logistics/Starbucks.

The event funded in part by a three-year, $1.2 million grant the college received from the U.S. Department of Labor. The purpose of the grant is to increase IT capacity in the region and the symposium is designed with that goal in mind.

For more information regarding the event contact Dulce Martínez at 872-6227.

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Sen. Cornyn, state’s HHS Commissioner Hawkins make renewed push For SCHIP, Medicaid enrollment

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins on Tuesday, November 27, met to discuss positive First Quarter enrollment trends in Texas’ SCHIP and Medicaid programs. They also highlighted new efforts to enroll greater numbers of Texas low-income children in SCHIP and Medicaid, so they can begin receiving essential health care services.

Following a roundtable discussion, Sen. Cornyn joined the Commissioner for a tour of the HHSC’s primary call center in Austin, where enrollment counselors assist Texas parents with their children’s SCHIP and Medicaid applications.

Hawkins informed Cornyn that since the adoption of House Bill 109 in September and various other program improvements, including new outreach efforts, First Quarter enrollment figures indicate a significant increase in enrollment of low-income Texas children in SCHIP and Medicaid.

“I was encouraged to hear that more and more low-income children across Texas are being enrolled in SCHIP and Medicaid and beginning to receive the important preventive care they need to lead healthy, active lives,” said Cornyn.

“The positive outreach efforts are encouraging, but there are still hundreds of thousands of low-income children across the state who are going without essential health care services. We must continue outreach efforts even more aggressively and explore every possible outlet to reach parents and educate them about the services available.

Cornyn added, “On the federal level, I’m committed to achieving full funding for Texas SCHIP, so that every low-income child, including those who have yet to enroll, will receive the care they need. Just as important, I will continue to do my part to coordinate with HHSC to close the communication loop and boost awareness about the compassionate care that is available to Texas children who need it most.”

Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee’s Airland subcommittee.

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AG Abbott obtains court order forcing Cameron County developer to bring colonia into compliance

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, November 26, announced that he has obtained a temporary injunction against the developer of Tierra Linda Gardens, a residential subdivision in Cameron County that lacks basic utilities.

Under the terms of the injunction, Manuel J. Montemayor and his company, MG Joint Venture, have until Dec. 20 to bring the subdivision into compliance with the state’s colonias prevention laws. Montemayor either must cancel each purchase agreement and refund buyers’ deposits and payments or, alternatively, obtain plat approval from local officials and install or bond sewer and water services on the lots already sold.

“The court’s decision requires this border-area developer to comply with state law by providing basic water and wastewater services to residential lot purchasers,” Attorney General Abbott said. “The Office of the Attorney General will continue working with local officials to enforce colonias prevention laws. We are committed to protecting border residents’ health and safety by investigating and prosecuting unlawful housing developments.”

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) took legal action against Montemayor in October after he unlawfully subdivided a tract into 26 approximately half-acre lots for residential use without obtaining the Cameron County Commissioners Court’s approval. The local officials’ approval is necessary to ensure that electrical, water and wastewater services will be available on property and that the land is not situated in a flood-prone area. Montemayor falsely advertised the lots on a billboard that claimed the lots included “all utilities.”

The OAG’s investigation revealed that Montemayor sold at least two lots for about $15,000 and $17,000 each at 13 percent interest. Montemayor stood to make more than $300,000 had he sold each lot in the subdivision and hundreds of thousands of dollars more in interest.

The case against Montemayor is one of three South Texas colonias cases recently pursued by the OAG. Earlier this month, Attorney General Abbott took legal action against rural housing project developer Aurora Graham, of Mercedes, for failing to obtain plat approval or to install or bond sewer and water services on residential lots she sold in the Gallegos Subdivision, near Los Fresnos.

In 2006, Attorney General Abbott concluded a similar case in Cameron County against Eric Solis, who sold lots in the Toribio Estates subdivision without obtaining plat approval or installing or bonding water and wastewater services.

In Texas, residential subdivisions near the U.S.-Mexico border that lack adequate water or wastewater services are commonly referred to as colonias. Most colonias lie outside city limits or in isolated areas of a county and lack basic infrastructure.

In 1995, the Texas Legislature strengthened colonias prevention laws. The new laws enhanced platting, selling and utilities requirements for residential land sales outside city limits in any county within 50 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. The laws also required that residential subdivision developers either install water and sewer service facilities or provide a financial guarantee to cover the utilities’ cost if the installation is not completed by a promised date. Local officials will not approve the subdivision until that infrastructure is created or the required bond is paid.

Earlier this year Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, supported a measure that provides the Office of the Attorney General with additional resources to fight colonia developments.

Before purchasing residential property outside the city limits, border area home buyers should check with county officials to determine whether the property was legally subdivided and whether the developer has made the necessary arrangements to supply water and wastewater infrastructure. Developers that violate Texas platting laws are subject to civil penalties of up to $15,000 per lot.

The Office of the Attorney General’s Colonia Geographic Database stores geographic and descriptive data on more than 1,800 colonias. To access the database, or for more information regarding Attorney General Abbott’s colonias-prevention efforts, visit the “Texas-Mexico Border” page on the Attorney General’s Web site at http://www.oag.state.tx.us.

Consumers can also file complaints with the Attorney General against developers or sellers who fail to provide water and wastewater services, or who subdivide land without first obtaining necessary county approval. Complaints can be filed on the Attorney General’s Web site or by calling (800) 252-8011.

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Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security begins work on examining border issues

Texas faces transportation and security issues not only in cities such as Dallas, Houston and San Antonio but in El Paso as well. The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security traveled to far west Texas in early November to listen to local concerns that will affect legislation in coming sessions of the Legislature.

Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot) District Engineer Charles H. Berry gave the senators an overview of future highway projects in the area. El Paso Mayor Pro Tem Alejandro Lozano described the close relationship between his city and Juarez, saying that problems reported by the media about the Mexican city were “exaggerated”.

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, pointed out that Mexico is a larger trading partner than all the European nations combined, and that security issues which delay legitimate commerce must be addressed. Committee chairman John Carona, R-Dallas said that he has made numerous trips to Juarez on business and called the delays “embarrassing”.

TxDot Commissioner Ted Houghton told the committee that costs of highway construction have risen at unprecedented levels due to increased international demand for materials. Amadeo Sáenz, the new TxDot Executive Director, said that the state gas tax would need to increase by ten percent each year to keep up with increasing costs. He described how the agency is working to implement new measures passed this spring by the 80th Legislature. Chairman Carona questioned the amount of state money that was going toward toll roads and let the TxDot representatives know that he would soon be needing that information.

Bridge safety came up as well. Sáenz told the committee that Texas bridges are inspected on a two-year cycle and that the information from those inspections is the basis for determining which ones are due for repair or replacement.

Regarding security, Steve McCraw from the governor’s office said Gov. Rick Perry supports many of the ideas put forth by Shapleigh for reducing delays at border crossings.

On other issues, he warned of wildfire dangers through the fall and winter, and said terrorism continues to be a threat. He also reported that criminal gangs continue to draw strength from the drug trade as well as human smuggling and that their reach has become truly international. That being the case, he told the committee that local, state and federal agencies have to work together with each other as well as overseas authorities saying, “Border security is a team sport–you have to get along.”

One continuing problem according to McCraw is that the federal government continues to refuse to refund state expenses in caring for victims of disasters such as hurricanes, saying that refunds continue to be denied and that Texas at best is recovering a “25-75 split”.

The committee also heard from Department of Public Safety (DPS) officials regarding driver’s license issues.

Tommy Davis of DPS told the members that new demands are being placed on the Texas Driver’s License, as it has changed from a simple driving document to a universal means of identification. He said that “every day” people try to secure fraudulent licenses at state offices and that changes in state law are needed to help DPS crack down on that practice. For instance, at the present time, he said there is no prohibition against non-residents obtaining licenses.

Other driver’s license issues include recent surcharges imposed by the legislature on traffic tickets. Municipal Court officials testified that the surcharges are so high that people are refusing to pay and simply drive without a license and that they are having to choose between feeding their families and having a valid license. Shapleigh said a program originally intended to pay for trauma care instead has become a “monster”, one that has criminalized one in ten El Paso residents just for traffic fines.

In other business, the committee heard how special reflectors might be used to decrease the number of wild animals being struck on Texas highways, new ways to ease the movement of products across the Mexican border, the great degree of interdependence between the economies of El Paso and Juarez, and the issues faced by local law enforcement on the Rio Grande. Law enforcement representatives agreed that local police do not need to be involved in enforcing immigration law, that this would be an undue burden on already strained resources.

The Texas Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security is chaired by Carona. The committee’s Vice-Chairman is Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin. Other members include Sens. Kim Brimer, R-Ft. Worth; Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville; Florence Shapiro, R-Plano; Shapleigh; Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.

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